If you've ever come into Stilwell Pianos and asked about buying a used piano off of Craigslist, you may already know that my biggest job is keeping our floor stocked with quality used instruments. Because we sell 20-35 pianos each month, sourcing these instruments and getting them up to our standards means we are constantly bringing in new stock and prioritizing what we need on the floor so our customers have the broadest selection possible.
One thing that surprised me when I started working at Stilwell Pianos, having grown up in my dad's piano store, was how much there was to learn. It is not an uncommon sentiment, that we simply buy pianos and move them directly onto our floor for a profit. The reality is that pianos are complicated instruments with many delicate moving parts that can ware and shift as a piano ages or is neglected.
Every used piano that comes through our doors goes through essentially the same process. We start by setting them up in our back shop and taking them apart to pull the action to be cleaned and lubricated. We thoroughly clean the piano while it's opened up with compressed air and a technique we use for hand cleaning everything inside, including under the strings. We hand polish the treble strings and clean the bass strings. For gloss finishes, we use a big buffing wheel and a wax compound to remove all of the scratches so they shine like new. Wood finishes get a cleaning and hand polish and satin finishes get rubbed out by hand to remove scuffs and scratches.
It is during this back shop process that we look for other issues that need addressed. There's a huge range of things that used pianos can need, from voicing and shaping the hammers to replacing hammers, or replacing bass strings and tuning pins, or replacing any number of moving parts within the action that are needed. Because we have a dedicated full service piano shop and a capable staff of piano technicians, we are able to manage just about anything a used piano can throw at us. We repair chipped polly finishes, fabricate parts and even do full harp and body refinishes when we need to.
Once all of the back shop work is done, the piano will either go out onto the sales floor for tuning and regulation or into our climate controlled storage room depending on what is needed on the floor.
We have many sources we rely on to keep our instrument stock up with sales. Having the highest ratings on Google and Yelp helps a lot. We get several calls and emails on a daily basis with people looking to sell their piano that just don't want the hassle of selling on Craigslist. With Michael being a 3rd generation piano technician, we keep a good relationship with the Piano Technicians Guild and get many referrals for buying and selling through its members. We also work with non-profits and have relationships with piano flippers, realtors and estate sales professionals in Arizona, Nevada and California. And of course, I am constantly checking Craigslist and other online sales sites watching for good pianos to buy.
So now you know the broader points on how we get our used pianos and the processes they go through before finding new homes with our customers. For those of you who want to find your own piano on the private market, we always recommend hiring a good technician to go over any piano before buying it, because you won't save money if you end up paying for a lot of repairs. If you're not sure what the right piano for you is, look to the right for the Piano Shopper's Guide tab. It's a good place to start if you want to know the quality and general characteristics of the more common piano brands.